What is your Desired Salary & Compensation? Tips and sample answers

Learn to answer this common question to maximize your compensation

What is your desired salary and compensation? It’s a question that gets asked fairly often in job interviews and leaves candidates scrambling for an appropriate answer. How do you effectively respond and get a job that will fairly compensate you for your skills, experience and time?

At Levels.fyi, we place a large emphasis on negotiating to get your desired salary and compensation, but this doesn’t need to be hard to be effective.

In this article on desired salary and compensation, we’ll discuss how you should prepare for this question and tactical ways to answer it.

You’ll learn:

  • What is desired salary and compensation

  • Why you must learn about industry and company standards for your salary and compensation before any job interview

  • How you should determine your desired salary

  • Why you shouldn't offer an arbitrary salary range

  • Important boilerplate answers to the expected salary and desired compensation question

What Is Desired Salary And Compensation

Your desired salary is the amount of money that you want to receive per year from working for this company.

In the same vein, your desired compensation includes this salary expectation and the other non-cash payments, such as benefits, bonus, equity (stock) compensation and other perks that the company gives you as its employee.

When you’re asked about your expected salary and desired compensation, the negotiation process will revolve on how well you can urge the hiring person to reveal the approved salary budget for this role. It’s rarely a good idea to state a salary figure without knowing the company’s budget or doing your research.

4 Ways To Prepare For The Question On Your Desired Salary And Compensation

Before discussing these 4 points, we want to emphasize that you should absolutely avoid disclosing a number at this time unless absolutely necessary. One way to handle the question is to reflect the question back at your recruiter by asking for a salary range for the role (in California they are legally obligated to give you a range). If they don't provide an answer, you can ask a follow up question about the job level and what the role's responsibilities entail. This information can help you later with compensation research. If you're cornered into a less-than-ideal situation where you have to give them a number, the following tips will help you to provide a reasonable answer.

1. Research on industry and company standards for your salary and compensation

Before any job interview, in addition to learning about the ins and outs of your role and the company you’re working for, you must know about the industry standards for your salary and compensation.

Your total compensation will highly depend on the size of the company, your job’s location, your skills and years of experience.

With Levels.fyi, you can do some research regarding how much a certain role gets compensated by various tech companies.

Let’s imagine a scenario — say you want to know what the salary is for a front-end web development job at Facebook, in New York City (NYC), as a recent graduate.

Go to Levels.fyi, and under the Explore tab, explore your total compensation by location. Pick NYC.

Here are the software engineer salaries in NYC.

Software Engineer Salaries in NYC

If you scroll down, you’ll find more details on the software engineer salaries that make up this bar chart. You can also filter the results by seniority or years of experience, among other factors.

New Grad Salaries in Tech

You can also search for the company name to see if a submission is similar to the position you’re applying for. Click the entry’s Level Name and then Direct Link to learn more about it.

Facebook E3 Salary

Here’s an E3 front-end developer working for Facebook.

Facebook Front End Developer E3 Salary

With a year of experience in the field and working for Facebook, she gets a base salary of $114,000, a yearly stock grant of $40,000 and a bonus of $14,000.

You can go to the company’s profile on Levels.fyi to learn more about its benefits.

Go to the Compare Benefits page to see the estimated values of these benefits and how they compare against those of other companies.

Google vs Facebook vs Microsoft Benefits

Important: The total compensation differs between different positions and the office’s location, so the benefits for your role may slightly vary from what’s publicly available online.

2. Don’t offer an arbitrary salary range, especially if it’s too low or high

Hiring people reject candidates if their expected salary is either too high or too low. They’re judging your value as a potential employee by the salary that you’ll propose.

If your desired salary is too low, this may raise some questions on your responsibilities in your previous jobs and whether you can perform well in your new role. Recruiters will also reject candidates that have salary expectations above the approved budget.

Essentially, you want the company to divulge the approved budget for the role before mentioning your salary expectations. When you do need to suggest a salary range, take into account the industry’s average salaries for your role and mention a range you’re comfortable with.

Do note that the company might default toward the lower end of your range. This can become an issue if this amount is too low and if you were expecting to get an offer in the higher end of the range. Therefore, never suggest a salary that’s too low for you.

3. Be realistic when determining your actual desired salary and compensation

You shouldn’t expect to have a 100% salary increase from your previous job to the next (unless you were an unpaid intern).

Although this is very possible, especially if you’re switching from one industry to another (e.g. from farming to tech), base your expectations on the industry and company standards for your role, the location of the job, your skills, qualifications and years of experience.

If the company’s approved salary budget meets your expectations and living standards, then accept the offer. If not, it’s better to look for other opportunities.

You might end up being dissatisfied if you accept an offer that is under your desired salary and compensation.

If you need professional help, our team of experienced recruiters can evaluate your market worth.

4. Do not mention your desired salary and compensation, unless you were asked to do so

Don’t mention your desired salary and compensation in your cover letter or anywhere else, unless you were asked to do so. Stating a number without knowing what the company’s approved budget is like shooting in the dark.

If they do tell you to mention this, you can include a note along the lines of:

*"My desired salary is open for discussion in the interviewing process."*

If you’re filling out a form with a mandatory field for a desired salary range, enter a number based on your research and preferences.

Boilerplate Answers On Expected Salary And Desired Compensation Question

Let’s get straight into answering this important question:

"What is your expected salary and desired compensation for this position?"

There are different ways to answer this question depending on the context of when it was asked.

You’ll realize that these answers serve one sole purpose: for the recruiter to reveal the approved salary budget for this position.

1. The headhunter in the early stages of the interview

Scenario: It’s your first interview with an external recruiter, and they bring up the topic of expected salary and desired compensation.

Why are they asking this question? This is to ensure that your expected salary is within the approved budget.

Boilerplate answer:

"I’d like to know about the company’s approved budget, as well as the benefits, training and advancement opportunities and other types of compensation that go alongside working for this role."

Why this answer? 90% of the time, the recruiter will disclose the salary range and other types of compensation for this position. If they don’t, that’s a red flag to consider early on.

Remember that a headhunter has a vested interest in helping you get paid as high as you can (they get higher commissions).

If the salary range is too low and you still want this position, discuss the perks and benefits that come alongside when working for the company.

2. The human resources recruiter in the early stages of the interview

Scenario: This is your first or second interview with the company’s HR recruiter.

Why are they asking this question?

The HR recruiter wants to see whether your expected salary fits within the company’s approved budget.

HR wants to mitigate any risks of a candidate refusing a job offer after the last round. The time and energy spent recruiting and interviewing you could have been otherwise better allocated to other candidates.

If you’re competent and your expectations fit within the approved budget, then they’ll organize an interview with the hiring manager.

Boilerplate answer:

"I am sure that your offer fits within industry standards for this particular role.

But before getting into this discussion, I’d love to know more about the job’s responsibilities, who I’ll be working with, your training and advancement opportunities, the benefits, vacation and all other types of compensation throughout the interview process.

These will give me a much better idea of how I can provide value to your company. At the moment, giving you any kind of estimate would seem too arbitrary and uneducated on my part.

But I am excited to learn more about these throughout the interview process."

Why this answer?

This is essentially a stalling tactic to allow you to get to the final stages of the interviewing process with the hiring manager and learn about the approved budget.

The HR recruiter will insist that you give out a number, but you need to resist and focus on learning more about the role.

3. The hiring manager in the later stages of the job interview

Scenario: You get this question in the final stages of the job interview.

Why are they asking this question?

The hiring manager likes your profile and wants to make sure that your salary and compensation expectations fit within the budget for this role.

If they’re asking this for the first time within the final stages, this means that they’re comfortable that you’ll accept the conditions, based on your previous job experience.

If this is the second time you’re being asked this question, then they’ll be more willing to reveal the approved budget after you give this response.

Boilerplate answer:

"I am sure that your offer fits within industry standards, so I’d love to know about the approved budget for this particular role, as well as the benefits, perks, growth opportunities and other types of compensation that I’ll have."

Why this answer?

This is roughly similar to the boilerplate answer for the HR recruiter, but this should be a much easier situation. Most of the time, the hiring manager will be willing to reveal the approved salary number, because they want to finalize this process and give you a contract.

4. The hiring manager after the headhunter or HR recruiter revealed the budget

Scenario: You get this question in the final stages of the job interview, and the approved salary budget was revealed in a previous stage.

Why are they asking this question? They want to make sure that you’re still willing to accept the offer within the approved budget.

Boilerplate answer:

"The headhunter/HR recruiter revealed the approved salary budget for this particular role, and it fits within industry standards. Therefore, I’ll be willing to accept an offer based on this with the right compensation."

Why this answer?

You need to make sure that the compensation offered fits within your expectations, and you can negotiate on the compensation package if the approved budget is a bit on the lower end of your expectations.

5. Any hiring person urging you to tell a figure

Scenario: Any hiring person throughout the interview process.

Why are they asking this question? The hiring person really wants you to mention a salary figure.

Boilerplate answer:

"Based on industry standards, my skills, qualifications and experience, I am expecting this salary range and these types of compensation. Of course, with the right offer, I’m open for discussion."

Why this answer?

This is a last-minute resort if they’re really urging you to reveal a salary figure.

As a best practice, you always need to do your research on the industry standards for your particular role, including on the salary range, benefits, vacation days, stock grant and other types of compensation.

Here, you need to elaborate on your skills, why you’re a perfect fit for this position, and why you deserve this salary range especially if it’s an increase from the previous one.

Need More Negotiating Help?

Still don’t feel confident about negotiating your desired salary and need professional help? At Levels.fyi, we have a team of experienced recruiters to help you evaluate and negotiate higher job offers.

We’ll prepare you to answer "what are your salary expectations and desired compensation?" and what to say when you get your first offer. We’ll also help you evaluate your market worth.

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